Declaring that J Street U wants to work with Hillel International to fix the “broken Jewish politics” around the issue of Israel, hundreds of members of the student group marched to Hillel’s Washington headquarters today to bring their message directly to CEO Eric Fingerhut.
Fingerhut cancelled his appearance before the group at the J Street conference because Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat was slated to speak at the conference as well.
At noon on Monday, J Street U members streamed out of the Walter Washington Convention Center where the conference of the liberal pro-Israel group is taking place, and headed south toward Hillel’s 8th Street headquarters. There, students were not able to secure a meeting with Fingerhut, but they delivered a letter to him asking for a meeting. Before they left, dozens of students slapped sticky notes on Hillel’s front door and windows criticizing the CEO for failing to attend their conference.
Outside the building, two J Street U members talked about their involvement in Hillel, which considers itself the home for Jewish students on college campuses.
Yaakov Malomet, co-president of J Street U at Brandeis University, said the group wasn’t gathered outside the Hillel building because members feel snubbed by Fingerhut’s cancellation or “because we don’t feel heard. We’re here because we want to work together with Hillel International, toward a two-state solution and Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.”
Benjy Cannon, president of J Street U, said the group received an email from Fingerhut on Sunday at the hour he was scheduled to meet with the group. “He said Jewish politics are broken around the issue of Israel,” Cannon said.
In the email, obtained by WJW, Fingerhut wrote: “We also clearly have work to do in the Jewish community at large to be one people that respects, honors and celebrates its diversity rather than fearing it. This incident taught me just how deep the divide is. I don’t yet have all the answers to how we will bridge this divide, but as Hillel’s president, I am committed to working with you to find them and I have no doubt we will be successful.”
Cannon said J Street U wants an on-the-record meeting with the Hillel International board of directors to discuss the role of donors in Hillel policy decisions. J Street U believes it is right-wing donors who are trying to limit the debate over Israel in Hillel, Cannon said.
“Until we know who these people are, we can’t have a [constructive discussion],” he said. “We want to invite Hillel to partner with us on this issue.”
Updated March 24
Fingerhut responded to Cannon in a message, writing, “I would be happy to arrange an on the record meeting between the J Street U National Student Board and members of the Hillel International Board of Directors.”